Parents, students and other patrons packed the Gering City Council chamber Monday night to witness a huge step forward in a long-awaited Gering Public Schools project. The Board of Education approved allocating $200,000 of the 2021-22 fiscal year budget toward the Gering High School tennis court improvement project.
Four patrons stepped forward prior to the unanimous vote in favor of the allocation to voice opinions regarding the courts, many in hopes to sway the board for a positive vote.
The board first heard from Gering High School boys and girls tennis coach Ron Swank. He made the case that an investment in the courts was not only one in the school, but in the students and in the community. He pointed out that the boys and girls teams have had to travel for all their matches due to the courts’ state.
“Scottsbluff hosts the Scottsbluff Invite every year. We always had 1, 2 and 3, doubles courts, and Gering provided the other courts … but now McCook doesn’t want to come anymore because we can’t use our courts,” he said. “We can use the Country Club, we can use Scottsbluff courts, but that’s only two doubles. We’d like to have that three doubles.”
The need for tennis courts in the area is growing, Swank said, not just for the high school teams, but for the community as well.
“We’ve got a strong pickleball community,” he said, referring to the growing program at the Carpenter Center. “Pickleball feeds tennis.”
It’s not just the pickleball community either. Swank suggested that the Gering Tennis Club is in need of good community courts. According to Gering parks, recreation and leisure services director Amy Seiler, the club is booming.
“We have a very robust adult summer tennis program that is very well attended, and we have a lot of people that have participated in that in the past,” she said.
Dennis Sullivan, a member of the club, spoke up at the meeting to represent the club and its needs.
“As a survivor of a knee injury — didn’t happen on the courts — but I don’t want it to happen again,” he said.
That just might be the biggest concern of them all, Melissa Moreno, a parent of a Gering senior tennis player, said.
“For a parent, I find that safety is the biggest issue,” she said. “The surface is actually loose. So when I’ve been out there in the summer, and summers before to hit balls with my son, you can slip and there’s the possibility of falling and injury. And so, my biggest concern is the safety, not just for my son but for all the boys on the team and any of the people that come and play from the community as well.”
Seiler said the City of Gering is recognizing these concerns and plans to discuss exactly how much it will put into the project at its upcoming budget workshop. Right now, they are ball-parking about $100,000, but it is not a guarantee yet. Seiler also said that the city would continue to provide lighting as a part of the partnership.
“What we’d like in that partnership is we would continue to supply the power for the lights, and then we would just hope that our community would be able to use those courts as well.”
School board member Brent Holliday voiced some concerns about the possibility of community members getting hurt on the court, which would then impact the school’s insurance, if it were to become a dual partnership with the city.
Seiler said it wouldn’t be much different from the partnerships for the soccer and softball fields.
“We have dual partnerships. You (Gering Public Schools) use our parks for soccer practice, and so I think we would just kind of look at that in the same way,” she said. “I don’t know all the legalities behind that, but I think that we can work something out, and I think it’d be really important for us to have an inter-local agreement.”
Seiler pointed out that the updated courts and the public use of them would also benefit the city economically.
“Not only the adult, but even youth, events definitely can bring people into the community,” she said. “So, that definitely does increase our tourism and economic opportunities in our community.”
Swank said, “We want to attract people. We want (them) to have a good impression of our area.”
The comments seemed to have won the board over, with the board approving the allocation of $200,000 6-0. Still, Holliday mentioned it was a tough sell for him.
“I was having a hard time voting to spend $200,000 on tennis courts,” he said during the board comments section of the meeting. “Nikki (Nicole Regan) really enlightened me in a lot of different ways and just the comments tonight helped.”
Superintendent Nicole Regan said the plan is to have the courts ready for the spring season, a little later than what many were hoping for when conversations about the project began last year. In March, Zac Karpf, a member of the Gering Tennis/Pickleball Court Revitalization Project, mentioned that the estimated cost for the project would likely be between $350,000 and $400,000.
In addition to the allocation of $200,000 to the tennis courts project, the school board also unanimously passed the use of NASB services for superintendent evaluation, priced at $1,000, and the updated Policy 504.19 regarding student fees. The board tabled action on approving student handbooks due to a miscommunication. The board plans to act on it during its retreat, planned at the Wildcat Hills Saturday, July 24.